Harry Belafonte Receives Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award

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According to Deadline.com, Harry Belafonte was honored last night at the Sixth Annual Governors Awards of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.  Belafonte received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and during his speech, galvanized the industry crowd by asking them to aim higher.

Belafonte gave one of the all-time great acceptance speeches at the Governors Awards, citing Hollywood’s often-shameful power to influence attitudes, and challenging the heavy-hitters in the room to instead create works that allow global audiences “to see the better side of who we are as a species.”

He reminded the crowd about “Birth of a Nation,” the early “Tarzan” films (depicting “inept, ignorant Africans”) and “Song of the South,” as well as the industry’s cowardice during the McCarthy hearings. He also referred to the industry’s decades-long treatment of Native Americans in films, “and at the moment, Arabs aren’t looking so good.” The industry doesn’t like trouble-makers and “on occasion, I have been one of its targets.”

But he said that “today’s harvest of films yields sweeter fruit,” citing “Schindler’s List,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “12 Years a Slave” as examples. He also thanked such inspirations as Langston HughesJames BaldwinEleanor Roosevelt and Paul Robeson, quoting the latter’s statement that “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth” as well as the radical voice of civilization.

He then called Sidney Poitier to the stage, recognizing the actor’s role in changing public attitudes toward blacks. And he added that he hopes things will improve this century: “Maybe it could be a civilization game-changer.”

Other Governors Awards winners were 94 year-old actress Maureen O’Hara, legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, and masterful screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere gave a moving tribute to Hollywood’s “forgotten” writers.

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (follow @lakinhutcherson)

3 thoughts on “Harry Belafonte Receives Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award”

  1. We need more Harry Belafonte’s – it seems we don’t have any now. There are few men I admire today, but Mr. Belafonte is one!! His love for the poor, forgotten and minorities is deserving of a crown!!

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